The best beaches aren’t all necessarily just great places to swim. When curating this list, we considered which beaches stood out in terms of how pristine or distinctive their sand is, how clear the waters are, what kind of food and activities are available or even the kind of party scene they provide. Some of these beaches have been featured in movies, television shows and even hit songs. Others have won awards and recognition from travel publications and websites such as Travel + Leisure, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler and TripAdvisor.
Located on the island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos, Grace Bay Beach is as pristine as it gets, with a barrier reef about a mile out keeping its stark, turquoise blue waters and white sands free of any seaweed, rocks or pollution. Many of Providenciales’ resorts are situated along this stretch of gorgeous coastline, which is just 3 miles long.
The sand of Whitehaven Beach in Australia is made up of 98% silica, which means it’s both very soft and cool, making it perfect for walking through barefoot. A popular spot for yachts, ferries and motorboats, the beach stretches a little over 4 miles. While it doesn’t have a reef and therefore much in the way of snorkeling or scuba-diving opportunities, its water is so clear that you can still see fish swimming by without any gear.
Private boats, beach clubs and oceanfront dining are all quite popular at Cala Jondal, located in Ibiza, one of Spain’s Balearic Islands, which is known for its nightlife.
This beach’s signature feature is its residents — African penguins. Boulders Beach in Cape Town, South Africa, has picturesque granite boulders that frame its boardwalks and serene rock pools.
In Hawaiian, Lanikai means “heavenly sea,” an extremely apt name for this beach located in southeastern Oahu’s Kailua Bay. The calm, fluorescent blue waves stand out against the white sandy beach, from which one can get a great view of the nearby Mokulua Islands, one of many breathtaking Hawaiian spots.
Situated on the southwestern coast of the Greek island of Crete, Elafonisi Beach has pink-tinged sand that makes for a mesmerizing contrast against the greenish waters and clear, bright blue sky.
Rapa Nui (popularly known as Easter Island) is most famous for its moai, the iconic large-headed stone figures with mysterious origins. But it’s also home to spectacular beaches. One of two beaches on the island, Anakena Beach has a dark, rocky coastline characterized by coconut palm trees, white sand and six of the moai, ready for their close-up.
Located in the Filipino province of Palawan, El Nido is a destination known for its gorgeous beaches with a backdrop of impressive limestone cliffs and green forests. The coral reefs in its waters have a diverse array of marine creatures, making it as picturesque underwater as it is at shore.
Cancún’s Playa Delfines features clear water that stays warm even at night, white sand that’s comfortable to walk on and waves that are perfect for surfing.
The super-calm waters of Flamenco Beach make it an ideal spot for swimming, snorkeling and sandcastle-building.
Best known as the birthplace of surfing, La Côte des Basques remains a premier destination for surfers from around the world.
Trunk Bay Beach is a snorkeler’s paradise, with an underwater snorkeling trail that stretches 225 yards. On land, there is about a third of a mile to stroll past rental and beach shops and more.
Named for a fig tree that has allegedly been growing since the 17th century, Fig Tree Bay’s golden brown sands are surrounded by seaside resorts.
Anse Lazio is situated in a bay framed by beautiful granite rock and is known for its powdery white sand and unbelievably clear water. A top destination for swimming and snorkeling enthusiasts, the Seychelles got a boost in fame back in 2011 when Prince William and Kate Middleton spent their honeymoon there.
A 13-mile beach, Varadero Beach in Cuba is just 24 yards wide on average but has plenty of beauty in its aquamarine waters and fine, white sands.
Jekyll Island has 10 miles of eerily beautiful shoreline, most notably the iconic Driftwood Beach. Driftwood Beach is characterized by ancient driftwood that is especially photogenic at sunset.
Natadola Beach generally has gentle waves, although it’s best to visit during mid-high tide for safety. Clean sand and clear waters make this the perfect spot for exploring the wonders of the bay’s reef.
Taking up 3 miles of Maui’s western shore, Ka’anapali Beach was the first planned resort area in Hawaii and is today marked by five hotels and six condominium villages facing the shore. Every evening at sunset, a cliff-diving ceremony is held at the Puu Kekaa (Black Rock) cliffs, where a diver lights torches alongside the cliffs before diving off of them in a reenactment of a dive by a Hawaiian king.
One of the most renowned spots on Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, Seven Mile Beach is home to plenty of resorts, restaurants and beach bars as well as snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing and plenty of sunbathing.
Located on Fernando de Noronha, a Brazilian archipelago that limits visitors for the sake of preservation, Baía do Sancho (Sancho Bay) can only be reached via boat or by climbing 230 feet down three sets of stairs. The climb may get a bit dizzying — but so are the views once you’re onshore or under the water.
At Eagle Beach in Oranjestad, Aruba, visitors can relax in a beach hut, catch some shade from a majestic divi tree, go jet skiing or sailing over the intensely clear turquoise waters, and marvel at the island’s pristine white sand.
Locals and visitors alike enjoy cooling off at Dubai’s Jumeirah Open Beach, a public beach complete with lifeguards and bathroom facilities with showers. Beachgoers seeking drier recreation can check out the nearby running track or spend their time basking in the sun on the sand.
Punta Cana’s most popular and developed beach, Playa Bávaro still manages to maintain its pristine white sand and private nooks along the resort-dotted stretch of coastline. An offshore reef protects the beach from pollution.
The second-largest atoll in French Polynesia, Fakarava looks like something out of a postcard. Its waters are so blue, it rivals the sky, making for a gorgeous picture next to the white sands.
Located in the southwestern English region known as the West Country, Woolacombe Beach is a 3-mile-long getaway that welcomes families and surfers to its shores.
One of the most famous beaches in the Bahamas, Cable Beach has world-class resorts all along its 2.5-mile stretch as well as a golf course and the island’s largest casino.
One of the smaller islands of the Maldives with a population of just a few hundred people, Fulhadhoo is a simply stunning sight. Turquoise blue waters nearly indistinguishable from the sky cause the icy white sands to pop even more, and shade can be found beneath the bright green palm trees.
Once recognized as the best beach in America, Clearwater Beach is a paradise where beachgoers can take in beautiful sites of the shore or enjoy plenty of great live music and beachside restaurants.
Radhanagar Beach in the territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands has fine, white sand that sits against a striking backdrop of lush, bright green rainforest.
Like many other beaches on this list, West Bay Beach in Honduras has fine, white sand, palm trees and bright, blue-green waters.
Warm waters and well-kept facilities continue to make Doctor’s Cave Beach in Jamaica a tourist favorite. Part of the Montego Bay Marine Park, marine life lovers will also find quite a bit to discover among the beach’s coral reef.
One of the most famous beaches in the world, Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro is roughly 2.5 miles long and is characterized by kiosks, concerts and restaurants on a bustling boardwalk.
Found on the southern shores of southwestern Australia’s Jervis Bay, Hyams Beach is surrounded by national parks and white sand and lies at the end of the 90-minute White Sands Walk, a scenic route that winds through the bay.
In the winter, Oahu’s Waimea Bay Beach Park should only be visited by surfing experts because of its 30-foot waves. In the summer, the waves are much calmer and appropriate for swimmers, snorkelers and divers of all levels.
Anse Source d’Argent is the pride of the Seychelles. Large granite boulders softened by time, water and wind make the landscape of this beach look otherworldly, especially when juxtaposed with tropical greenery behind it and the aquamarine waters and pristine white sand that stretches out before it.
A colorful beach you have to see to believe, Pink Sand Beach gets its pretty pale color from foraminifera, microscopic insects with bright pink or red shells. Their bodies are crushed and washed ashore by the ocean’s waves after they die, mixing them in with sand and bits of coral. The sand is smooth and cool here, making it a popular place to explore barefoot and on horseback.
Against a backdrop of sand-colored cliffs, beachgoers can enjoy the Mediterranean weather and aqua waves that turn a deeper blue as they go farther out at this Egyptian beach. The light, clean shores of Agiba Beach stretch about 44 yards.
Named for the sea turtles that are known to lay their eggs there, Tortuga Bay is an excellent place to experience the biodiversity of the Galápagos Islands. Relax in the light blue waters and wait to come across species such as marine iguanas, white-tip sharks and, of course, Galápagos turtles. Tortuga Bay is also known to be a bird-watching destination, home to pelicans, ground finches and flamingos.
Located on Achill Island in Ireland, Keem Bay is a remote beach surrounded by sweeping cliffs and mountains.
The 3 miles of undeveloped beach at Playa Rincón are lined with leaning coconut trees with water calm enough for swimming and snorkeling on one side and enough waves for bodysurfing and more activities on the other.
Soft, bright white sand is sandwiched between bright green trees and clear, turquoise-tinted waters at Diani Beach in Kenya. Beachgoers can swim with dolphins and sea turtles as well as take to the land with guided forest hikes, a trip to a monkey sanctuary or a visit the nearby coastal national park.
Nevis has appeal to American history buffs as the birthplace of founding father Alexander Hamilton, but it’s also a wonderful Caribbean spot with unspoiled landscapes. One of the most famous beaches on the island, Pinney’s Beach is located just outside the capital. It stretches for 3 miles and features vivid clean shores that meet bright blue seas.
Ipanema Beach is another famous Brazilian spot for surfing, partying and playing in the sun. The sunsets are particularly well-known here, with a viewpoint specifically designated for beachgoers, who often applaud the natural display.
Colorful bean bags and parasols provided by beach clubs line the shore at Seminyak Beach in Bali, Indonesia, a popular spot made even more beautiful by lights in the evening.
A trip to Champagne Beach on the island of Vanuatu is as relaxing as a sip of the drink with which it shares its name. There is also plenty to do, such as swimming and snorkeling or relaxing under massive tamanu trees.
Situated on the western end of Portugal’s Algarve coast, Praia do Camilo (Camilo Beach) lies at the bottom of a set of beautiful cliffs that beachgoers can reach by climbing down about 200 steps. The impressive rock formations along the shore divide it up into smaller beaches and have some lovely small caves hidden in them as well.
Another beach where the red foraminifera shells, along with crushed coral, turn the sand pink, Bermuda’s Horseshoe Bay Beach has a blush-like color that makes the turquoise waters really pop. Located on Bermuda’s South Shore, hidden caves and coves also surround the bay among picturesque rock formations.
Santorini isn’t typically associated with black sand beaches. However, Parissa Beach is striking due to the dark, volcanic sand that lays beneath its colorful beach umbrellas facing the Aegean Sea.
Composed of quartz crystal, the fine sand of Siesta Beach in Siesta Key, Florida, makes for a stunning sight next to the blue-green waters and brightly colored lifeguard huts.
Stretching for about 2 miles along the southwestern coast of Grenada, Grand Anse Beach’s soft white sand juts out of a lush green landscape, which is home to some of the best resorts in the Caribbean.
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